Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 before 200,000 supporters of the Civil Rights Movement, calling for racial equality and an end to discrimination.
His 17-minute “I Have A Dream” speech was part of Mrs. Joanne Catlett’s lesson to her sixth grade classes at last week, focusing on the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement.
“Yesterday, we watched a short video about the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement. We got to the part of the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech,” said Catlett, a Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, just before one of her four 6th grade classes began. “So today we’re actually going to read the speech because [the students have] been doing persuasive essays and we’ve been talking about figurative language. So we’re going to explore Martin Luther King, Jr. as a writer and how convincing he is. And after they read it, then they get to see it and see how powerful it is.”
Before diving into MLK’s speech, Catlett and her students went over what the Civil Rights Movement was all about.
They discussed why MLK made speeches about freedom and rights of African Americans, why African Americans were still fighting for freedom at that time, years and years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, and how African Americans were treated as they peacefully protested for their equal rights.
“Why do we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.?” Catlett asked.
Some of her students said because he coordinated a lot of the protests, because his idea was to gain rights through peaceful protests, and because he was a role model for peace.
“Why was he someone who stood out?” Catlett asked.
Through more discussion, her students concluded that it was because he delivered a lot of speeches that were very persuasive.
“I want to give you fair warning,” Catlett said before they all began reading the speech out loud. “It is full of unbelievably tough vocabulary. But it is also full of unbelievably wonderful figurative language.”
Her students said they expected to find similes, idioms, alliteration, hyperbole and metaphors throughout MLK’s speech.
Catlett and her students were gathered in a large circle as each student read one of the 22 parts of MLK’s speech. In between parts, Catlett asked the students to examine his words further, looking for the deeper meaning to what he was saying, all the while asking them to point out the figurative language they found.
After reading through his entire speech, the students arranged their chairs around the classroom projector to watch the 17-minute speech.
Catlett’s students, some of whom were fittingly decked out in 60s clothing for the school’s “60s Day,” read along as MLK delivered his speech. “I love that they are all reading the speech,” Catlett said. “They don’t always do that.”
As the students continued to watch the speech, Catlett also pointed out that there were two hours of speeches prior to MLK’s.
After the video, Catlett asked what they learned from watching King speak at Lincoln Memorial.
Several students volunteered their opinions. Some said he was very powerful and convincing, while others said it seemed like he really wanted freedom. One student acknowledged that he had a very strong speaking voice, while another student said King gave people the courage to stand up for what they believed in.
All of the students agreed that King sold them on his message that peace is the way to go to gain equal rights.
“On Monday, think to yourself, ‘there’s a reason we’re celebrating this day,’” Catlett said to her students. “Our lives are different because of this man. We walk down the streets differently because of this man. Even though we’re not African Americans, are our lives different?”
Her students agreed.